I can’t get a job because I don’t have Canadian experience.
This is a common statement we hear from many international students we interact with at our events and workshops. It can be discouraging to see a job posting as a student or recent graduate that calls for 2, 3 or 5 years of experience. It may stop you from applying for the role or even reading the rest of the job description. However, this is not necessarily a roadblock.
To start, here are a few notes to keep in mind.
- A job description is a wish list from employers. They often ask for a little bit more experience than what is needed to be successful at the role. If you fit 75% – 80% of the job posting it may be a good fit.
- It’s ok if your experiences are varied. Think about how smaller opportunities can potentially add up to 1, 2, or 3 years of experience. A well-rounded cluster of experiences can go a long way.
- Skills and experiences (adaptability, reliability, communication) can transcend industries.
Experience is about skills, not roles and titles
Although it’s easy to equate experience to job roles and titles, this isn’t necessarily the case. Both technical skills (those gained through formal education) and transferable skills (communication, teamwork and collaboration) help to showcase your experience. Transferable skills speak to how you will complement an existing work team and organizational culture. In fact, most organizations have specific attributes that they want all staff to demonstrate, regardless of job title. For example, one of these attributions may be ‘results drive’. Think about the varied roles and jobs an individual may have had to gain this skill in Canada or otherwise. Skills are developed across experiences.
Additionally, titles can change from one organization to another. A similar job title can have very different responsibilities. Understanding the full scope of the job posting, technical and soft skills (beyond the title) can make a big difference in building your application and showcasing your experience. Aim to match skill as opposed to experience in your applications.
Seek out extracurricular & non-traditional opportunities
Don’t limit your experiences to traditional co-op, part-time or full-time roles. Thinking about experiences beyond this scope shows that you take initiative and have an interest in continuous learning and growth. It’s also an excellent opportunity to showcase how well-rounded you are as an individual (not just as a potential employee). It highlights your values, passions, and social/community responsibility. It is the ultimate career goal to marry your personal and professional interests. If you’re able to foster and communicate this to potential employers, it is a big win! Here’s how you can get started:
- Volunteer opportunities are everywhere. It may be a step to gain industry experience or pursue a personal interest. Organizations set up to foster volunteers offer the structure of a traditional job role (which means you may be developing important technical and soft skills), while also giving you the flexibility to work with your needs.
- Extracurricular clubs and associations are another great option not only to build skills but to also network with like minded individuals. Think about student unions, associations, and communities to which you can lend your skills.
- Self-directed projects take a great deal of commitment and initiative, both of which are highly regarded by many employers. A couple of examples include creating a website for yourself, crafting a social media strategy for a local business or developing a mobile app. Regarless of industry, our access to self learning is higher than ever – take advantage.
- Academic projects can also be so helpful in showcasing your experiences. Remember to relate your school projects to potential experiences you might encounter in the workplace to highlight the skills you’ve learned.
Don’t discredit your international experiences
First, YES do include your international experiences in your Canadian application packages. To start, your cover letter is a great place to talk about your individual Canadian journey. In your resume, it may help to include a short description (under your job title, location and date) of the international organization. If you worked with a multinational employer, you may not need this. That said, you cannot assume that an HR manager will recognize global brands. With only 6 seconds to scan your resume, make it as easy as possible for the employer to understand your previous organizations and roles.
Hiring managers want to understand the parts of your international experience that are relevant to their role in Canada. As a comparison, you may also want to do some research on similar Canadian employers. Give your international experience the importance it deserves.
Although this is a common challenge for international job seekers, there are strategies to overcome your lack of experience in Canada. If you want to continue to learn more about how you can better build your skills and applications for the Canadian market, join us at one of our upcoming Q and A sessions to meet and interact with HR professionals and career coaches.
This article was co-authored by Lynda Jackson, Human Resource Leader and Employment Advisor has vetting this content.